Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

I found this really interesting - I'm from the UK and so from a different Christian culture, but a lot of this resonated with me so I guess we're not too different. I've attended a variety of different churches (from Catholic school to Charismatic Evangelical), and the compassion within the church is definitely something that consistently stands out.

I suspect we may simply have different theologies on the merit of doing good, and it's probably a bad idea to argue over it since I'm sure we could both quote scripture and verse at each other to prove that we're right. My thinking is more along the lines that all good deeds glorify God, even if done with non-religious motivations. That's not to say I'm a universalist, I do believe that my specific brand of Christianity is the correct one (I'm not saying I'm 100% certain of all theological minutia, just that by definition my beliefs are the ones I find most plausible), but I think even an atheist draws closer to God whenever they act out of love for other people. I think all people have some understanding of the divine (the perfect being, and hence the perfect standard to which our actions are held against), but just don't have the right relationship to it without Christianity.

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I loved your insight about Christians avoiding explicit movies! I often wonder if the Netflix finance department will figure out that several million Christian subscribers gave up on finding the one-in-a-hundred video that doesn’t conflict with my Christian faith and traditional values.

Maybe their programming is just following the younger, woker audience, but I honestly feel like I’m being indoctrinated into a world that I don’t want to live in.

I heard a comment from a blacklisted conservative person in the movie industry who wondered why they only make films critical of the US military. Not saying it’s not corrupt, like every organization becomes, but wouldn’t some large number of conservative consumers pay to see those?

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Re: Mormons and the Trinity. Here are some possible factors, ordered by descending significance IMO (I'm LDS):

1. For many, missions are the first time they've had meaningful discussions about their beliefs with non-Mormons, so in general they'll be likely to fumble instead of giving a clear answer.

2. Perhaps in your area, the Trinity is a common objection, and the local missionaries prefer to avoid the topic ("we just spent an hour arguing about the Trinity with the last guy!"). (I served my mission in Malaysia/Singapore, and it wasn't a big deal there--but I've heard of this kind of thing from people who served in the US).

3. To a Mormon (drawing on my own experience), the topic of "Are Mormons really Christian?" feels somewhat exasperating ("Duh, it's literally called 'The Church of *Jesus Christ* ...'!"). Until you've been exposed to it enough (see #1), it's surprising that the Trinity is such an important belief for many Christians that not believing in it would make them think of you as being in an entirely different religion. This might cause missionaries to not take your questions fully seriously, making them more likely to go for #2 ("look, we're both Christians, can we please just move on to Joseph Smith instead...").

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Jun 2, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

Really salient points re: the salutary effects of committed religious belief on personal behavior, and why. One more point: religious people reproduce at 2x the rate of the non-religious (essentially the difference between replacement value and serious population decline), which will absolutely lead to a reversal of the present secularizing trend in the mid-term future.

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

I hope you continue to write more pieces like this. I'm an atheist, but have become much more interested in religion lately. Maybe I'll end up in the Thomas Jefferson Category.

One thing I've started appreciating is that there are definitely different levels of sophistication of religious belief. Fundamentalist Christian types have this idea that the Biblical corpus has the same ontological and epistemological status as a scientific theory. I'm not sure what to make of that. It's obviously not correct. Why is that belief still so prevalent? Contrast that with someone like Mircea Eliade. Maybe this hierarchy of religious sophistication is demeaning to many people, but it seems correct.

But I also believe that Atheists don't take religion seriously enough at all. We've done very little to study and understand religion from a biological perspective, a phenomenological perspective, a literary perspective and a metaphorical perspective, just for starters. There is so much going on and we seem so eager to throw it away without understanding it first.

Sometimes I think religion is like math. It is an extremely important part of our society, and almost everyone is embarrassingly bad at it. Those who dismiss it offhand are like the kid in grade 8 learning algebra and complaining that he'll never use it. Maybe he's right. But I'm glad mathematicians still exist.

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

That was interesting, and large chunks of it seem to be realistic, based on my observations of what I'd call "committed Christians in the US".

I'm not part of that demographic; realistically, many evangelicals would probably class me among their collective enemies.

I'm not going to unsubscribe because you are "one of them," or even because you talk about it but I'm afraid this puts your immediately previous article - where we did clash - in a kind of perspective. Of course the needs and desires of men, young or otherwise, are more important to you than the needs and desires of women; in fact, the archetypal person is male for you. The former is arguably supported by the Bible, and consistent with the subculture; the latter seems so prevalent in US Christian culture and literature as to be unarguable, except among the groups you tend to exclude from your definition of Christianity.

No real point to this comment, except that I'm glad I'm not your daughter. (Your daughters, if any, may well be perfectly happy - but probably not if they were born with my personality and talents.) Also, I'll probably have less to say next time I disagree with you about gender relations.

At any rate, I'm happy to see you explaining your background. It gives me a much rounder picture than I generally get of anyone who sets out to be a pundit, even in a small way.

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

Thanks for writing this. While I didn't learn anything new on the literal level, I found it interesting and surprising to see such self-aware descriptions of what it looks like from the outside. You've accurately described what the average Christian looks like to me, a non-Christian, and that's an impressive feat. I don't think most of us are able to describe what we look like to the outsider while still being true to what we think we are. If that makes any sense.

This bit especially:

"So to go to them and say “but none of that matters, really, without Jesus” seems like an insanely shitty thing to do." This is an extremely common interaction I've had with Christians. And it's also this bit of philosophy that I find the most repelling. I'm more likely to trust someone who has a strong ethical core that's not religiously centered. I think that if you're doing good just because of Jesus that it seems a lot more likely to me that you're not going to do good tomorrow because that's a hard motivation to stick with in the long run. And, if you're Christian, it's okay, because Jesus will forgive you for not doing good as long as you ask. So, in general, I find Christians to be less trustworthy than those with a non-religious ethical system...

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

Thanks for the post. Religion is very much a foreign country to me, so I like to educate myself about it.

Did you notice that all your examples of Christians are about men or "people"? Even when you refer to a hypothetical friend, you use male pronouns. I kept waiting for the part about women, but you never got there.

My perception is that a lot of conservative religions are associated with sex-segregated social groups, whether it's explicitly banning cross-sex interactions apart from family members or just viewing male-female friendships with a suspicious eye. Is that true of your religious community, and do you think it contributes to this tendency to center men?

Your previous post revealed (well, sort of—you kinda buried it) that your financial struggles were largely the result of choosing to have two kids before you were prepared to support them, plus the unemployed wife. How much of that was driven by Christian beliefs/social pressure about, e.g., birth control, abortion, natalism, or women's roles? I speculate that an atheist couple would not have this particular failure mode, because they would more likely avoid unplanned childbirth.

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

Some typos-

"This does effect things"

"I’d like the say the same is true"

"A final unrelate disclaimer"

"believe in the trinity(which"

Please delete this comment once you've seen it, since it doesn't actually add any useful discussion.

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Jun 1, 2021Liked by Resident Contrarian

Thanks for this insight - extremely interesting. As someone who grew up in a Freewill Baptist household, this squares with my memories of that experience and how my family and friends that still subscribe to beliefs in that vein think about the world.

One of the main reasons I am no longer a Christian is the belief in the inherent wickedness of humans that you describe. While I agree that the community building aspects of religion are real and vital, I feel Christianity’s assumption of awfulness is a HUGE net negative for its adherents and the world around them. It makes sense from making Christianity a religion that competes effectively with other belief systems for adherents, yet the consequences of feeling and believing that the church is the only thing keeping us from evil, both on an individual and societal scale, screws up a lot of people. I don’t see a way to excise that without making the result “not Christian”.

This feels like one of those irreconcilable differences, yet perhaps I am overlooking something.

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Really interesting post. TBH it was boring up right until the end. But the end was all worth it. That point is first time someone clearly explained the American Christian morality . If I were to put into sentence its like that "We are morally right because we do it in the name of the God and by his Book"

I instantly thought about Jewish morale code, which is basically this "we are God's chosen, and as long as we follow his words -we are justified in what we do"

There was a point in my life when I basically turned from science nerd atheist (militant when I was younger) into a person who chooses to believe in God. And there was a period when I was looking if it was appropriate to join a religious group. I read a few books, checked a few religions, talked to people. But still to this date I dont feel rigid religious codes resonate with me. Too self righteous. Too cock sure that their way is "the way"

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Sep 14, 2022·edited Sep 14, 2022

This is the best explainer I have ever read of the Christian culture I live in. I plan on reccomending it to everybody who stares at me in shock when I say I go to church.

And also, it reminds me that those people who scoff at the acolytes of Charles Murray who suggest community support can replace welfare likely look at it like I would look at communism: they have simply never ever seen it work.

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I enjoyed this.

I was raised in the Lutheran Church: baptized, acolyte, confirmed, attended every Sunday and, during Lent, went to Wednesday services.

In my teenage years I decided the whole Christian thing was not just wrong, but very, very bad. I thought Christians were fools and I ridiculed them whenever possible. I got married, had kids, saw them through school and out of college. They are by all accounts good people.

As I passed through this experience, my position on Christianity gradually changed. I decided to read The Bible. I read The King James Bible cover to cover. (OK, I skimmed a lot of Jeremiah. Fifty chapters of negativity. Hence the word "jeremiad".)

After reading through the Old Testament, the book of Matthew is a shock. Jesus message is a stunning contrast. The synoptic Gospels are wonderful. Then comes John, written many many years later, and you can feel the difference. The Gospel of John begins to introduce elements of orthodoxy.

Later, the narrative is dominated by Paul. Paul takes the message of Jesus and solidifies it into an orthodox religion. The transmogrification is completed in the Revelation of John, which has far more in common with the Old Testament than the New.

From what I see, modern Christianity is the product of Paul, and has little to do with the teachings of Jesus. The message of Jesus is abundantly clear in the synoptic Gospels. A great example is Matthew 7:10: "By their fruits you shall know them." This is pure humanism. The most consistent interpretation of Jesus message is humanist, not orthodox.

I've got a lot more to say about this, and I hope, a lot more to learn. But it's getting late, and I probably should go to bed. Please keep writing, and keep trying to change mind mind. I've changed it before.

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Great piece with a tone full of charity. My faith was formed by the world you describe. Over time and informed by the mystics of the Christian tradition I have come to see that we are not depraved sinners cut off from God but rather God is not separate at all. Rather God is in everyone, everywhere, equally. Jesus came to show us this and model what it looks like to bring the spark of the divine forth. I, and all creation, are evolving into Christ to the extent we allow it. Church for me becomes the place we do the hard work of practicing how to see the divine and bring it forth.

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In addition to my previous comment on morality (https://residentcontrarian.substack.com/p/on-christian-culture-a-look-inside/comments#comment-2287630), this is a part that struck me as somewhat ironic:

> They [other Christian denominations] are lying, but they will swear up and down anyway.

You do soften up this statement in the next sentence, but still, IMO it betrays a certain lack of self-awareness. Being an atheist, I've had many conversations with all kinds of theists, and they *all* say this. I've seen a Muslim and a Christian engage in bitter debate right in front of me, a sort of ideological battle to the death for the right to convert this particular heathen to the one true faith.

I know that it feels like you've got the answer and everyone else is a liar or, at best, an idiot; but everyone else feels that way about you. I think that, in the absence of an actual physical 120-ft tall firebreathing Jesus (or equivalent), it is uncharitable to discount their perspective out of hand.

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Another Latter-day Saint here taking a crack at your view of what we believe. Jacob O’Bryant did a good job of explaining why missionaries answer the way they do but he did not go into details about what we actually believe.

First things first: your notion that we do not believe that Jesus is God is incorrect. Jesus is God. But He is also the Son of the Eternal Father, who is also God. But they are not the same God. The Bible is a much more polytheistic book than 1,800 years of Catholic teachings about the nature of God would leave you to believe. In Genesis 1:26, for example, God says “let us make man in our image.” Father is speaking to Son. They are separate beings and they are both God. In Matthew 3, Jesus is baptized and the Father speaks from heaven and the Holy Ghost descends as a dove. Three separate beings.

If you would like the most concise and accurate view of the Restored Church’s conception of the relationship between Father and Son, it can be found here:


We also reject the notion that our Jesus is a “different Jesus.” If we both knew a guy named Bill and you thought Bill’ father had passed away and I thought that Bill’s father was alive and that Bill also had a brother named Johnny, Bill would still be the same guy regardless of who we thought his father was. Our conception of Jesus differs from yours because we reject the Nicene Creed (and subsequent Creeds) that attempt to explain the nature of God. These Creeds were the product of 100+ years of Catholic argument about the nature of God. Ironically, when the debate about the nature of God began in roughly 285 A.D., the question about the Father and Jesus being one or separate beings wasn’t the thing they set out to debate. There was general consensus that Jesus was not the Father and that they were two separate beings. By the time the First Council of Nicea met in 325 A.D. the question at hand was “Is Jesus as much God as the Father? In other words, is He equally God or lesser God than the Father?” They debates this question for 100 years and came to the conclusion that God the Father and Jesus were made of the same substance, meaning that Jesus was just as much God as God the Father was. But they were still seen as two separate beings though the “same substance” conclusion led some to the idea that “if they’re the same substance then maybe they’re different manifestations of the same being.” This concept makes zero sense Biblically. Jesus teaches the people in the Sermon on the Mount to pray to the Father. He says only the Father, not Himself, is good. He says on John 17:3 that life eternal is to know both the Father and the Son. Even in John 1, the word is God and the word is with God. Jesus is God. And He is also with the Father who is also a separate God. But they, along with the Holy Ghost, are one in purpose. And to carry out the creation of our universe, the creation of mankind, and the redemption of mankind, you need the separate roles of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each has a unique role in helping mankind to become immortal and to inherent eternal life. Therefore, they are one God. Three separate Gods but one Godhead because all three are necessary. Jesus by Himself would still be a God without the Father and the Holy Ghost. But by Himself He would lack the power to carry out the full plan of redemption.

Do we believe in a different Jesus? No. We simply believe that 1800 years of false Catholic doctrine about the nature of God has caused Catholics and Protestants, who get their understanding of God from the Catholics, has caused you to misunderstand who Jesus actually is.

Hopefully that makes sense. My analogy about the guy named Bill is a mess. I’m already sorry about it.

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